Right, sorry to be a part pooper, and I realise there’s a degree of… hypocrisy involved here – but would everyone please shut the fuck up about ‘The Original of Laura’ already?
Here’s the deal:
1) It’s a fragment. I’m not sure how many words 50 index cards of Nabokov’s scrawl amounts to, but pretty clearly nowhere near a novel, or even a novella. We’re not talking ‘needs a few finishing touches’; we’re talking ‘basically not written yet’.
2) It’s probably not very good. I’m about as fervent a Nabokovophile as you’ll find; but his last few novels are, in even my opinion, weak. I won’t be re-reading ‘Look at the Harlequins!’ in a hurry, and I wish people wouldn’t pretend that ‘Laura’ is just a few well-placed semi-colons away from ‘The Castle’ or ‘The Aeneid’.
3) Even if it were worth talking about, it’s not worth talking about at incredible length every six months, in a fresh flurry of speculative, contentless punditry. Unless the thing’s been either burnt or published, I don’t want to hear about it.
4) And yet: the front page of ‘The Times’ this week. WTF?!
I know it’s unreasonable of me to complain about the media spending too much time on literary marginalia. I should be grateful. But I feel obliged to read this stuff – I spend precious minutes pouring over dull remarks by Tom Stoppard and John Banville – and I’m pissed off. So, rather than exercising self-control, I’m asking the world’s journalists: please: shut the fuck up about ‘The Original of Laura’.
[In an attempt to give this post some actual content, here’s Nabokov on the fate of the sequel to ‘Dead Souls’. Contrarian as ever, he refuses to see Gogol’s destruction of the manuscript as a victory of religious philistinism over artistic instinct. Rather, Nabokov sees Gogol’s decision as the death-bed resurgence of his better nature, revolting against the pieties to which he had subordinated his muse. (Notice, however, that Nabokov’s contemptuous dismissal of religious values is phrased, as so often, in somewhat religious terms – the chapel may be false, in this passage, but the blue flames of hell are real…)
“…and if Chichikov was fated to end his days as an emaciated monk in a remote monastery, then no wonder that the artist, in a last blinding flash of artistic truth, burnt the end of Dead Souls. Father Matthew [Gogol’s priest] could be satisfied that Gogol shortly before dying had renounced literature; but the brief blaze that might be deemed a proof and symbol of this renunciation happened to be exactly the opposite thing: as he crouched and sobbed in front of that stove (“Where?” queries my publisher. In Moscow.), an artist was destroying the labor of long years because he finally realized that the completed book was untrue to his genius; so Chichikov, instead of piously petering out in a wooden chapel among ascetic fir trees on the shores of a legendary lake, was restored to his native element; the little blue flames of a humble hell.” (‘Gogol’, pgs. 137-8)]